Conclusion - Pros:

  • Excellent resolution at low ISO sensitivity settings in good light
  • Reliable metering and white balance in daylight
  • Supremely easy to use Camera App
  • Hardware shutter button (volume keys)
  • Bright, contrasty, very high-resolution LCD screen
  • Excellent built-in HDR and Panorama modes
  • Effective touch-to-focus/AE and AF/AE lock options

Conclusion - Cons:

  • Relatively poor flash performance in low light - camera-shake is a real risk
  • Yellowish results under warm artificial light
  • Occasional moire issues with very fine detail (fabric, straight lines, etc.)
  • Lens 'purple haze' flare isn't as big a problem as some have made out, but it can be an issue
  • Occasionally slow, hesitant AF (but accuracy is generally very high)

Overall Conclusion

As we mentioned in the introduction to this review, the iPhone in its various iterations, has become (quite unexpectedly) one of the most popular digital cameras ever invented. We've come a long way since the craptacular 2MP obscuroscopes offered by the early models, to the point where the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 actually offer genuinely useful image quality that in favourable conditions, is hard to tell apart from the output from 'proper' cameras.

When manufacturers employ pixel-binning to achieve higher ISO settings we don't normally celebrate the fact, but in the case of the iPhone 5, it gives you greater flexibility in poor light (i.e., you might actually get a picture now, where you just wouldn't with the iPhone 4S) and the drop in quality is unnoticeable when the images are used for sharing/web display. Overall, the iPhone 5 offers the mobile photographer speed, responsiveness, and a nice range of well thought-out features.

Right now our perfect cellphone camera would offer the ergonomic finesse of the iPhone 5, and the image quality (and PureView zoom) of the Nokia 808 PureView but as a complete package, the iPhone 5 is one of the most satisfying phone cameras out there. Our wish list for future iterations includes more manual control - specifically over white balance, but we'd also like to see 'slide-to-apply' exposure compensation rather than having to rely on AF/AE lock. 

The Final Word

The iPhone 5 is a fine mobile device, with an excellent camera. In qualititative terms it's not the best camera out there, and nor is it the best camera on a smartphone (the Nokia 808 has that honor, for now) but it offers satisfying image quality, some neat functions like auto panorama and HDR mode, and - crucially - it is supremely easy to use. It isn't much better than the iPhone 4S, as far as its photographic performance is concerned, but it isn't any worse (notwithstanding a somewhat more noticeable propensity towards lens flare).

What we like:

  • Supremely easy to use
  • Excellent detail at low ISO settings in good light 
  • Generally reliable metering/white balance
  • Touch-to-focus and AF/AE lock give good control over focus and exposure when required
  • Effective HDR mode makes a good job of balancing tones in tricky (static) scenes
  • Excellent Panorama mode
  • Quick and intuitive image navigation, zoom, editing and sharing

What we don't like:

  • Luminance noise visible in areas of plain tone even at ISO 50
  • Lens prone to flare when bright lights are positioned at or just outside the edge of the frame
  • Face detection a little hyperactive (sometimes finds faces that aren't there)
  • High ISO output (ISO 1250-3200) uses pixel-binning, which sacrifices resolution for sensitivity
 
DXOMark Mobile Score
72

DXOMark Image Quality Assessment

The iPhone 5's camera achieves a very good Photo Mobile
Score of 74 which is the same as the iPhone 4S. It offers very good color and exposure in most lighting conditions and accurate - if slow - autofocus. There is some loss of detail and large grain noise in low light and strong flare in some pictures. Video performance is good in bright light but image quality and stabilization isn't great indoors.
. For more detailed analysis, visit www.dxomark.com.

Photo Mobile Score 74   Video Mobile Score 70
Exposure and Contrast 88   Exposure and Contrast 81
Color 80   Color 92
Autofocus 72   Autofocus 49
Texture 67   Texture 78
Noise 60   Noise 47
Photo Artifacts 81   Video Artifacts 82
Flash 70   Stabilization 54
Apple iPhone 5
Category: Mobile Phone
Camera and Photo Features
Screen Quality
Ergonomics and Handling
Video Quality
Still Image Quality
Speed and Responsiveness
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The iPhone 5 combines ease of use with excellent image quality that rivals the best of its conventional competition (ignoring the innovative Nokia 808 PureView for a moment). Anyone upgrading from the iPhone 4S will not see a huge difference in image quality, but the leap from earlier generation models is profound. The iPhone 5's camera is one of the best around, but manual control over white balance and exposure (via exposure compensation) would be the cherry on the cake.
80%
Overall score

Sample Gallery

There are 39 images in our Apple iPhone 5 samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.